|On 21 December 2008, the Center for the Study of Democracy held a High Table discussion with the participation of Mr. Robert McFarlane. Following a distinguished career in the US military and civilian government, including a position as National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985, Mr. McFarlane – the keynote speaker on the occasion – has since served on the board of a number of NGOs and corporations, in addition to being Chairman of McFarlane Associates, Inc. The topic of discussion was the changing international environment in the wake of the recent historic US Presidential election, and in particular the implications for the strategic relationship between the US and European Union members.
In his insightful comments, Mr. McFarlane outlined the main challenges facing the incoming US administration. He noted the appropriate choices in nominating to key positions figures with extensive foreign policy and national security experience. Of particular significance to the US-EU partnership, it was emphasized, is the more “Eurocentric” character of the Obama team, which points to a period of much more harmonious relations between Europe and America in future years. Nevertheless, Mr. McFarlane also underscored the need for better understanding of the nature of the domestic politics of emerging regional powers such as China, Russia, and Iran, as well as of their international political and trade engagements. Mr. McFarlane further discussed the dangers of nuclear proliferation as well as the challenges posed by the high-tech nature of modern-day US military defense, such as its vulnerability to the disruption of satellite communications as well as to data loss and penetration by computer hackers, which all necessitate the development of complex technological solutions and countermeasures.
Another pressing issue highlighted during the discussion was the need for a major rethinking of the energy policy not only of the US but also of its European allies, and in particular the need to diversify away from the over-reliance on fossil fuels or on a limited number of energy suppliers and the dire security implications of the failure to do so. Mr. McFarlane cautioned against the use of certain renewable energy sources which may lead to unintended side-effects. Referring to ethanol production from farm crops, he noted the unfavorable consequences of higher food prices and even food shortages in certain areas of the world, as well as the resulting higher risk of social unrest. As an example of the type of energy production technique with a more positive environmental impact yet without the above-mentioned negative side-effects, Mr. McFarlane cited innovative plastic recycling technologies which may be used to produce butanol fuel.
Mr. McFarlane also drew attention to the conditions of economic crisis presently affecting most NATO members, which will likely require higher levels of social spending and generate greater pressure for corresponding defense spending cuts, thus making it all the more pressing for all NATO allies to pool their resources and work together to counter the common threats they face.
Other distinguished participants at the event – Ambassadors Michael Geier of Germany, Klaus Fabjan of Austria, and Paul Beijer of Sweden, as well as representatives of Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry – shared certain experiences from their respective countries in handling some of the challenges under consideration. At the same time, they reaffirmed the consensus view that the security threats of the coming decades are beyond the capabilities of each individual country to tackle in isolation from its NATO allies, thus highlighting the ongoing need for cooperative engagement of the US and Europe.